Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Buncha books - issue 8

It's time once again for a Buncha Books post. If you need a refresher on the ratings system, you can find it here. Once again, I must reiterate my disclaimer: It takes me a while to get around to reviewing the books I read, so don't hold me accountable for 100% accuracy when describing plots, characters and/or settings. Or even 75% accuracy for that matter. Hey, I do my best. I currently have more than 20 books waiting in the wings to be reviewed, so I'll get to as many as I can now and then try to do one or more Buncha Books posts sooner than later.

First up today is One Mississippi by Mark Childress. It's about a kid, Daniel Musgrove, from Indiana who moves to Mississippi just before his junior year of high school. He's an outsider and hates it. Then he meets another outsider, Tim Cousins, and things start to turn around for Daniel. There is a lot going on in this novel. There's Daniel's family, which is dysfunctional as well as unusually unlucky. There's Daniel's relationships with Tim and Arnita that are tainted by racism and dishonesty about an accident in which Daniel and Tim are involved and Arnita is a victim. There is bullying and homosexuality and the too often tragic effects of anti-gay sentiment. Overall, I found this novel well-written and compelling and would recommend. Four picklebottoms.

Next we have Hit Parade by Lawrence Block. I really enjoyed this book. The hero is John Keller and he's a hit man. He's not, however, a cold-hearted bastard, as one would expect of one's garden-variety hit man... Well OK, maybe he is, but he's a hit man with a code of honor. He also collects stamps. Avidly. When he's hired to do a job that would allow him to attend a stamp-collecting convention, he thinks it's perfect. Then he accidentally gets to know his target. This is the third novel in the series featuring John Keller. I enjoyed it enough that I'll probably, when my TBR pile is down to only ONE 3-foot high pile instead of SIX 3-foot high piles, read the tow preceding novels in the series and then the novels that follow. Four picklebottoms.

The Expected One by Kathleen McGowan is based on what is an interesting, though quickly becoming overused, premise. That being that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children. So when I picked up this book, I thought it would just be another run-of-the-mill conspiracy novel. (I am not, by the way, knocking conspiracy novels, I ENJOY conspiracy novels; if I didn't, I wouldn't have bothered to pick up this novel off the bargain table.) It was not. It was quite different, in fact. The story revolves around Maureen Pascal, a journalist whose specialty is women in history. She begins having visions of Mary Magdalene's life through Mary Magdalene's eyes. She is then contacted by a man named Sinclair and asked to travel to France to meet with him, but he is mysterious about his reasons other than that they have to do with her visions. She divulges all to her trusted and beloved cousin, Father Peter Healy, a priest with whom she grew up, and he insists on accompanying her. Then follows an interesting story about followers and descendants of John the Baptist and followers and descendants of Jesus. The novel also contains excerpts from The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which gives her viewpoint on some of the well-known Biblical stories. It turned out to be a rather interesting read. As an added bonus to its story, the author claims in an afterward that she had to write the book as fiction, but in fact she herself has had similar visions and that the excepts of Mary Magdalene's gospel are based on actual previously undisclosed texts. So overall, I think it was a new twist on an old idea and I would recommend it, ESPECIALLY to those who like a good conspiracy. Four picklebottoms.

lost boy lost girl by Peter Straub is about a man, novelist Timothy Underhill, whose sister-in-law commits suicide for no apparent reason. A week later, her son disappears without a trace. After his sister-in-laws funeral, Tim tries to figure out what happened to his nephew, Mark Underhill. During this time, a pedophile who murders his victims is active in the town. Tim also discovers that Mark had an obsession with an old abandoned house where he thought the killer might be hiding. Was or is the killer in the house? What secrets does the house hold? Is Mark a victim of the killer? This novel, for me, was just OK. I did find it fairly interesting as I went along, but in the end it left me a little flat. I think I didn't really ever connect to the characters and the ending wasn't really explained to my satisfaction. There were supernatural elements, which is fine, but not really my thing unless it's Dean Koontz and his quantum-physics type supernatural stuff. Anyway, overall it was an OK read, though it wouldn't make me seek out any more of Straub's work. Three picklebottoms.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is a young adult novel about a boy, Clay, who receives a box of cassette tapes, and a girl, Hannah, who recorded them just before committing suicide. The tapes are being passed among various people who she claims had a role in her decision to kill herself. Clay can't imagine what he did and doesn't want to listen to the tapes, but he does. I enjoyed this novel. It is dually narrated by both Clay and Hannah (via her tapes). I couldn't put it down, because I too wanted to know what role Clay had played, since he was written as a thoughtful, considerate, just plain NICE guy, who had had a crush on the dead girl. My only disappointment in the novel I can't really mention without spoiling what one finds out about the role Clay plays in the girl's death, but I will say that I think I would have found it more interesting if Clay's narrative had been that of one of the other kids from the tapes. Anyway, at the end of the novel, Clay's view of others and how or if to interact with them is changed. Great young adult fiction. Four picklebottoms.

Lastly for this issue, because if I don't have a lastly, the issue will never end, and I've been not finishing this thing for WEEKS now, Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston. It's been so long since I read this that I don't remember much about it, so I've just skimmed over the dust jacket blurb to jog my memory. OK, it's about Elinor and Ted, a loving married couple who did everything just right and in the right order. Now that they're settled and established, they are ready to start a family, but discover that Elinor's fertility is nonexistent, probably because of her age. She gets depressed, her husband finds himself involved with his personal trainer who has a young son and things deteriorate. Elinor discovers the affair, Ted tries to do the right thing, the girlfriend's kid is a complication. Can the marriage be saved? Somewhere in there is a stalker, though I don't remember if he's stalking Elinor or the girlfriend, and there's a big brouhaha at the mall that results in injury. Overall it was a pretty good read, though I think I liked Lolly Lolly Lolly's other novel that I've read, Good Grief, a little better. Can't say that for sure, though, since it's been so long since I've read either. I'm going to say three and a half picklebottoms.

And that is all folks. Except that I hope I'm not the only one that now has the "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here" song stuck in her head. Gotta love that Schoolhouse Rock for earworms.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

MacGyver lives!

He is now a chubby middle-aged redheaded woman and blogs under the pseudonym Fiona Picklebottom. A couple of years ago, I bought a two-screen DVD player from Best Buy. It was not. My best buy, that is. It lasted about 4 hours before Beth snapped off the screen of the player side (there's a player side that takes the DVD and a monitor side). When I got to our destination, I found a Best Buy and returned it for a replacement. By not allowing Beth to touch the replacement, it lasted about a year before she forgot the 'no touching' thing and broke it again. In her defense, the player had a VERY BAD DESIGN in that the screen opened downward in a clamshell-like manner in order to insert the DVD. In the DVD player's defense, apparently that is a common industry STUPID design. These things are for kids, industry people. Adults are not (or shouldn't be) driving around watching movies. Use a little common sense when designing your products.

Anyway, we are taking another long car trip this summer (about 3 weeks), and since it's just going to be me and FOUR kids (Mr. Picklebottom can't take that much consecutive time off, so he's flying to meet us at one of our destinations for a few days), my sanity felt the need to do something about the DVD player situation. The screens for car DVD players are pretty small, so to avoid the kids possibly TOUCHING one another in order to all see, because the resulting whining for miles in a car would be hell on earth, the ideal situation is one screen per kid. I set out to accomplish this goal, keeping in mind that I had one extra screen from the broken set already.

I couldn't find where a 3 or 4 screen car DVD player existed at all, let alone for a reasonable price, so I had to purchase another 2 screen. This time, with prices having come down, I was able to purchase a better-quality player. I also purchased a cheap portable laptop-style DVD player for my oldest, figuring as a teenager she probably wouldn't appreciate having to watch the little kids' movies the whole time, so she could watch her own.

After getting home and unboxing everything, I discovered that the connections on the new player and screen were different from the ones on the old leftover screen. I looked online to see if I could find any adapter and splitter cables that would do what I wanted, but didn't have any luck since I didn't know exactly what the names of the cables were. So I hit the local Radio Shack (how does this place stay in business, no one I know will ever ADMIT to going there, like it's embarrassing or something), so I could peruse the cables and adapters and see if I could find anything that would work. Ultimately, because the salesman wouldn't just let me look, he HAD to help, I drew a picture for him, explaining what I was trying to do, and we found the cables. Actually, it took me a little while to convince him that yes, this would work, because he was scratching his head and trying to convince me otherwise. Then as I was leaving, he actually said, "I'm impressed that you knew how to explain all that." I answered (in my HEAD of course, I NEVER say these things out loud), "Why? Because I'm a GIRL?"

I put it all together, and IT WORKS!!! Even though I'm a girl!